A California church filed a federal lawsuit Saturday challenging the state’s restrictions on houses of worship, including what the suit says is a ban on “in-home Bible studies.”
At issue are prohibitions by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials on “in-person religious gatherings” in 30 counties, as well as bans on corporate singing statewide.
Liberty Counsel filed the suit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and an associated organization, Harvest International Ministry. Each is headquartered in Pasadena. Harvest Rock has multiple campuses.
Harvest Church requires masks, takes temperatures of attendees and requires the proper social distancing, the lawsuit says. Despite that, the state has imposed a “total prohibition” on religious activities, thus violating its constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, speech and assembly, the suit alleges.
“While the Governor has unilaterally and significantly restricted the number of individuals permitted to ‘gather’ in Plaintiffs’ churches, he has imposed no similar restrictions on the untold thousands of protesters who have gathered all throughout California cities with no threat of criminal sanction, and no social distancing or restrictions whatsoever.” the suit says. “And, the Governor explicitly encouraged such large gatherings of protesters while condemning churches for singing hymns in their churches.”
The lawsuit is unique in that it also targets the state’s implicit prohibition on Bible studies. Harvest Church has “numerous Life Groups, which meet in the homes of members,” the suit says. Likewise, “many of Harvest International’s member churches in California also have smaller groups that meet in the homes of their members to worship together” and “engage in Bible study,” it says.
“As a result of the Governor’s orders, Plaintiffs have been prohibited from engaging in the critical ministries of home group Bible studies and programs because the Governor’s orders prohibit them from leaving their homes for such gatherings,” the suit says.
The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the state’s restrictions on churches, arguing the “governor has imposed an unconscionable and unconstitutional burden on Plaintiffs’ religious exercise.”
“The governor is not the High Priest over all religions,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. “... Gov. Newsom encourages thousands of protesters to gather in the streets but bans in-person worship and home Bible studies and fellowship. This discriminatory treatment is unconstitutional.”
Photo courtesy: Robert Bye/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.